How Does a Pastor Survive a Sex Scandal?
An HBO documentary on Ted Haggard, shot by the daughter of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, takes a sympathetic view of his life in disgrace.
January 29, 2009 - 12:57 am
Gayle Haggard plays a small part in the presentation, but she comes across as sincere, not a robotic “stand by your man” construct.
The Haggards have little money, few job prospects, and have earned a lifetime membership in the Shame Hall of Fame. And the media won’t ever let him forget it.
Pelosi previously shot footage of Haggard for a documentary called Friends of God, and clearly the two connected well enough to make this mini-doc possible. That chummy bond wasn’t strong enough to coax Haggard to open up for her cameras.
Haggard puts up a brave front, grinning hard through adversity and only letting a few embittered emotions bubble up now and then.
Pelosi should have leveraged their connection harder, at least for the sake of the project. Her questions, which we often are privy to hear thanks to her open style, are hopelessly vague. But even when a query hits home she fails to pounce on a penetrating follow-up. Instead, she lets the moment slip away time and again.
When Haggard says some people would rather he be a murderer than gay, Pelosi lets the statement hang in the air without a follow-up. A lost opportunity, indeed.
And what are Haggard’s precise thoughts on homosexuality, both what causes someone to embrace such an alternative lifestyle and how he feels about those who proudly engage in gay relationships? Or, better yet, what message do his actions send to young and confused gay people the nation over?
Perhaps a follow-up documentary will dig deeper.
Pelosi’s shooting style involves catching her subjects at unflattering angles or while they’re walking to or from somewhere. It’s meant to convey a sense of familiarity, or at least spontaneity.
But not only is this a distracting approach for the viewer, it doesn’t reveal anything noteworthy. Her angle choices don’t appear to be mean-spirited. She shows surprising tenderness toward her subject.
A few intriguing items are gleaned from the film. Haggard casually mentions that the therapists he worked with after the scandal broke proved to be the most helpful toward his recovery. Left unsaid is how his former colleagues weren’t a part of that redemption. Haggard also alludes to a childhood trauma that could have set the stage for his eventual downfall, but that’s all we learn about his past.
The pastor continues to struggle with his sexual feelings, another potent theme that isn’t fully explored.
Pelosi, who previously shot the surprisingly evenhanded Journeys with George, a look at Gov. George W. Bush on the campaign trail, isn’t out to crucify Haggard. Her film offers as sympathetic a look at the man, and his disgraceful exit from the church, as possible.
The bigger question is, what is she trying to say about the fallen pastor?